- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2014

Having never won a PGA Tour event during his nearly 20-year professional career, Greg Chalmers knows better than to get excited over a first-round lead.

Enthused may be a better term; encouraged would certainly be true.

Such a position is where the 40-year-old Chalmers found himself Thursday afternoon, when his 5-under-par 66 was fine enough to leave him atop the leaderboard after the opening round of the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club.

In the last threesome off the 10th tee Thursday morning, Chalmers‘ score surpassed that of Ricky Barnes, who held the lead for much of the morning at 4-under, and weathered a late challenge from Freddie Jacobson, who birdied four of his final seven holes to match Barnes.

Chalmers‘ 66 is a modest score, but it’s also unique: Only 26 of the other 119 players managed to break 71, many of them puzzled by the second-longest course on tour and one that played significantly more difficult in the afternoon once the moisture of the Wednesday-night showers dried up.

To reach it, Chalmers needed only 25 putts, the fewest of any player, after driving 10 of 14 fairways. His only bogey was on the par-3 second, his 11th hole of the day, in which his tee shot dropped into a bunker and, after his rescue, his par putt went a foot too far.

“I didn’t think it was easy at all,” Chalmers said. “I played really well, and I think if anybody plays really well, they can shoot a low score. You just have to be coming out of the fairway — and I did that a majority of the time today.”

Chalmers, an Australian who turned pro after winning the 1994 French Amateur and was the Australasian Tour Rookie of the Year a year later, is among the highest-earning tour players to have never won one of its events.

On the whole, success has been fleeting for Chalmers, who last was a runner-up in 2009 and did not have his tour card in 2007 and 2008. His best finish this season was a tie for 10th in The McGladrey Classic last November, and he entered this week’s event in 126th place in the FedEx Cup standings.

“It’s not probably too early to get ahead — it is too early to get ahead,” Chalmers said. “There’s a long way to go. I had a really nice day today, and I’m proud of that, and that’s great. How that transpires into the rest of the week is what matters.”

Barnes birdied three consecutive holes, including the par-3 seventh, where he dropped his tee shot mere inches from the pin, to take the early lead.

Only a bogey on the par-5 16th — where Barnes sent his second shot into a fairway bunker, saved it with an approach that landed just shy of the green, and then settled for a two-putt — spoiled an otherwise clean round.

“I don’t look back on last year, but I like where I’m going lately,” said Barnes, who won the U.S. Amateur in 2002 and finished second at the U.S. Open in 2009 but was in danger of losing his spot on tour at the end of last season. “The game has been trending in the right direction. [I’ve] been working hard. My caddie and I have been grinding, my short game is coming around, and that’s kind of where I’m seeing a lot of the results.”

Patrick Reed, currently seventh on the PGA Tour money list, flirted with the lead during the morning session but ended his round with consecutive bogeys to finish at 3-under. Erik Compton, who tied for second at the U.S. Open two weeks ago, finished with four consecutive birdies to match him.

In the afternoon, it was Jacobson, who finished second at the event in 2008 when it was known as the AT&T National, who made his run. His highlight of the afternoon was a chip from 14 yards out on the fairway the par-4 fourth that bounced in.

Unlike Chalmers, Jacobson missed six fairways, including a tee shot on the par-4 18th that sailed out of bounds to the left and required a drop.

“It’s tight out there,” Jacobson said. “It’s a tough golf course. I think when you’re in the rough, if you can come in some angle, we can chase it up close to the green, maybe if you give yourself a good angle you can up-and-down it. That’s what I managed to do a few times. When I did hit it well, I took advantage.”

Bill Haas, the defending champion, finished his first round with a 3-under-par 68 to join Reed, Compton and Tyrone Van Aswagen, a tour rookie, in a tie for fourth. Another former champion, Nick Watney, is tied for eighth at 2-under with seven others, including Leesburg, Virginia, native and Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley III.

And Tiger Woods, the player many in attendance wanted to see, shot a dismal 3-over-par 74 in his return from back surgery. Hampered by his short game — which he said had been a problem during his three-month layoff — he didn’t find his rhythm until the final third of his round, when he birdied three of his final six holes.

“We were all kind of looking to break 80,” Woods said of his threesome, which included Jason Day, who finished 2-over, and Jordan Spieth, who also was 3-over. “It was a bit of a fight today for all of us but we all hung in there.”

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